In this day and age of shrinking petroleum sources and rising fuel costs, what if you can power your bike with renewable oil-based fuels? And in Kerala what better fuel could there be than the oil squeezed out from the ubiquitous coconut?

This is exactly what four final-year students of the mechanical engineering course at the Sarabhai Institute of Science and Technology, Vellarada, have done. Their ‘veggie bike' can run on coconut oil and indeed on any vegetable oil.

The ‘veggie' engine was designed by Sreejit Babu, R.S. Sandeep, Shan K. Thomas and V.S. Anu with help from college lecturer K. Prasanth. What is more, this change in fuel will not require any major changes in a regular petrol engine.

“There are a lot of designs for bikes and cars that run on solar power and electric power. Our thinking was that a complete switchover to such vehicles would mean that existing vehicles should be discarded. With our technology, a regular petrol engine is modified using a fuel injector, a gas kit and an injection timer. It is then ready to run on coconut oil or on any vegetable oil,” team member Sreejit Babu explained to The Hindu.

The modifications cost the team only Rs.2,000 and the modified engine returned a mileage of 84 kilometres to the litre – of coconut oil, that is. Though the actual development of the veggie bike took six months, the idea of designing an engine that could do without petrol or diesel sprouted during the team's second year of study at the college. All told, the project cost the students Rs.20,000.

It was quite a bumpy ride, designing such an engine, recalled Sreejit. At one point, the team even seemed to have reached a dead end with their design. It was then that Ajith, a workshop owner at Valiyavila, suggested that the team try to get their engine going by fitting it with a gas kit so that the vegetable oil or coconut oil ignites efficiently.

And would the veggie bike meet the emission laws of the land?

Sreejit concedes that the pollution readings using coconut oil are a mite higher than those using petrol. But then this is something that can be ironed out if the design is fine-tuned.

The team is not quite sure what they want to do with their design - whenever they see a coconut tree these days they hear a bike revving up.